The Miracle Plays of Mathura: Repertoir of Rasdharis


Krsna and Balarama Fighting with Kans' Wrestlers

May 7, CANADA (SUN) — An overview of 106 unique Krsna lilas typically performed by the Braj Raslila troupes.

Having thoroughly described the ras portion of a traditional Braj Raslila performance in previous segments, we now turn to the lila portion of the transcendental drama. The lila is a one-act operetta that may deal with any one of the well over 100 episodes belonging to the Krsna cycle.

The number of distinct lilas which are played by the troupes of Braj probably approaches 150. In today's segment, 106 plots are described on the basis of experienced rasdhari's recollections of actual performances, as recorded by author Norvin Hein in his book, Miracle Plays of Mathura.

A thorough treatment of the literary sources of these lilas would require much work on their texts, which are not available. The average swami is at most an editor of his scripts. He can cut a play, or lengthen it with additional songs. The basic texts, however, are the work of certain exceptional rasdharis or of persons very close to them and to the stage. Among the rasdharis who are remembered as playwrights are Kesadev Rasdhari, Radhakrishna Rasdhari, and Brajlal Bohre, all of whom, though now dead, lived into the present century. Even such men are as much compilers as composers because they find the outlines and the verse element of their dramas in a vast Krsnaite literature of narrative poetry. A visit to an old Hindi library will turn up volume upon volume, either entitled Krishnalila or named after one or another of the lilas given below. On examining them, one finds that they are ballads or ballads mixed with lyrics; they are not plays. But this is the type of material that the lila writer edits, adapts, intermingles with fragments from other sources which take his fancy, and supplies with prose paraphrases and supports with songs to create his scripts.

The Repertoire of the Rasdharis

The summaries given below include the plots of all the most popular lilas and of many that are performed only rarely. Several dozen additional lilas were omitted because of lack of sure information about them or because of doubt that they have actually been played.

The first class of lilas is made up of those which are dominated by the virarasa or heroic mood. Hindi usage sometimes refers to them as the aisvarya lilas -- those celebrating Krsna's lordship. Most of the plays in this category draw their plots from old puranic sources and tell of Krsna's heroic exercise of His power against evil beings. The asuras and other demons who appears on the stage in these lilas were no doubt once dreaded, and onlookers must have felt awe at Krsna's power in disposing of them. Even today, in superior performances of the Kaliyadaman lila by the more emotional troupes, the fearsomeness of the serpent is felt, and there is a gasp of admiration and relief from the crowd when Krsna is finally revealed triumphant, standing on the head of the conquered nag. But generally the sternness of these old lilas has fled. Little boys in today's audiences greet with loud laughter the lop-eared asuras who caper on to the stag, and the child Krsna pushes them over as if they were straw. Even in theological interpretation of these lilas have become mild. They are often called anugrahalilas -- sports in which Krsna manifested His grace by slaying the demons with his own hand, thus guaranteeing them immediate salvation.

Among the lilas that inspire or were originally intended to inspire awe of Krsna's heroic power are numbers 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12 13, 21, 36, 39, 41, 42, 52, 53, 55, 60, 66, 67, 70, 71, 73, 81, 88, 89, 93, 94, 102, and 104. Although these lilas are numerous and although a few like the Kaliyadaman lila are great favorites, on the whole they are not often played.

The largest class of lilas is the group dominated by madhuryarasa, or the romantic sentiment. Here attention is focused upon Krsna as the heart-captivating lover. Sometimes the theme is His irresistible appeal to the gopis. More often the subject is an episode in the flirtation of Radha and Krsna. Dramas on the loves of this pair are called nikunj lilas because their common trysting place was in the bowers (nikunj). Through the extensive use of the writings of the prolific eighteenth-century poet Caca Vrindabandas many lilas of this class have come to deal with untiring attempts by Krsna to meet Radha by adopting some amusing disguise. The lilas in which romantic love is the principal interest are numbers 2, 18, 22, 26, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 35, 43, 45, 48-51, 54, 56-59, 62, 63, 65, 68, 72, 75, 77, 79, 82-85, 90, 92, 97, 99-101, 103, and 105.

Delight in Krsna's mischievous boyishness is a subordinate feature in almost all the lilas. In a handful it sets the dominant mood. In this class are numbers 5, 15, 16, 17, 38, 61, 69, 78, 80, 86, and 106. The prevailing emotional tone of these lilas might be called the vatsalyarasa, the mood of parental fondness toward a child. The term is a familiar one in the literature of the bhakti cults. This emotion occurs often as a subordinate mood, and is more prominent in the entire body of plays than this short list indicates.

The rest of the lilas in our collection cannot be forced into any of these three classes. Today we present the first fifty in the series, with the remaining fifty-six to follow in tomorrow's edition.

Krsna Lilas Central to the Raslila Troupes of Braj

1. Aghasurbadh Lila
Krsna kills a snake-demon sent against him by King Kans.

2. Antardhan Lila
During the dancing of the Maharas, the gopis become proud because of the attentions shown them by Krsna. Krsna therefore disappears and sows Himself again only after they have been humbled and purified by the sorrow of separation. This episode is often played as an incident in the Maharas Lila.

3. Annaprasan Lila
This lila enacts the ceremony at the house of Nand on the occasion of giving the infant Krsna his first solid food. There is little plot but much singing and instrumental music.

4. Arishtasurbadh Lila
Kans sends a demon in the form of a bull to kill Krsna. Krsna slays it with a horn wrenched from its own head.

5. Ankh Mincauni Lila
Because the child Krsna wears ankle bells, His brother Balaram catches him easily in a game of blind-man's bluff. Krsna pouts and says He will not let Balaram have even a taste of the milk of His new cow. He relents at last, saying that Balaram may have a very little bit.

6. Ukhalbandhan Lila
Krsna smashes the butter jar. Yasoda punishes Him by tying Him to a wooden mortar. He drags the heavy mortar and with it knocks down two trees, thereby releasing two souls who had been imprisoned in that form.

7. Uddhav Lila
To humble the pride of Uddhav, a proud Advaita philosopher, Krsna sends him to Braj to convert the gopis to His outlook. They worst him in debate and send him back a convinced follower of the way of bhakti.

8. Kansbadh Lila
King Kans invites Krsna and Balaram to wrestle in his arena and pits them against murderous opponents. Krsna kills his adversary, then drags Kans down to his death. Vasudev and Devaki are released from prison, and Ugrasen is restored to the throne.

9. Kamdev Madmardan Lila
Kamdev boastfully declares that he has conquered both gods and men, but still is spoiling for a fight. He challenges Mahadev to a battle. Mahadev says that he is too old, but that Krsna of Vrindaban will give him all the war he wants. While Krsna is dancing with the gopis, Kamdev attacks him with his flower-tipped arrows. Krsna turns Kamdev's weapons aside and leaves him stretched out flat upon the rasmandal.

10. Kaliyadaman Lila (or Kalinag Lila)
With a view to destroying Krsna, Kans orders Nand's family to deliver to Him blue lotuses taken from the pool of the dread serpent Kaliya. Krsna subdues this serpent and sends it away.

11. Kubja Kritarth Lila
While entering Mathura for the final conflict with Kans, Krsna meets Kubja, the hump-backed maid who supplies Kans with sandalwood paste. She transfers to Krsna at once her loyalty, her unguent and her love. Krsna puts a hand under her chin and miraculously straightens her back.

12. Kesidanavbadh Lila
Krsna slays a demon having the shape of a horse.

13. Kshirsagar Lila
The gopis and cowherds ask Krsna to show them His divine form. Krsna asks Balaram, from whom Seshnag is an expansion, to revert to the form of that primeval serpent. Radha reverts to the form of Lakshmi. Then Krsna gives the astonished gopis a vision of Himself as Narayana, reclining upon Seshnag, with Lakshmi at His side, on the great Sea of Milk.

14. Gandhin Lila
Krsna gains fraudulent admission to Radha's home in the guise of a vendor of perfumes. He is detected by Radha's friends, the sakhis.

15. Guriya Lila
The child Radha quarrels with her brother Sridama over his theft of her doll.

16. Gunijan Lila
The gopis come to Radha and Krsna in the disguise of nats (tumblers) and please them with their feats. Radha promises them any reward they like. They reply that they will have, please, her beloved, Krsna. Radha sits in tears until the players doff their guise.

17. Gocaran Lila
The small boy Krsna insists that He is big enough now to go out in the morning with the herds. The family priest permits His going after He has obtained for His protection a charmed blanket on which Radha had once sat. In the pastures at last, Krsna is taught dancing by the herd-boy Tosh. All the boys eat together their lunch of bread, lentils, and buttermilk.

18. Gopdevi Lila
Krsna in disguise comes to Radha, saying he is a woman of Nandganv. Radha inquires about Krsna. The stranger exclaims, 'That scoundrel!', and finds herself in trouble.

19. Gomay Sringar Lila
Krsna finds a gopi who is gathering cow dung on the banks of the Jamuna and helps her carry her load. As a reward she decorates His face with dots of cow dung and promises him as many lumps of butter as there are dots.

20. Goregval Lila
In talking with Radha, Krsna compares her face to the moon, and she takes offense. In revenge she disguises herself as Krsna and comes before the gopis declaring herself to be Krsna, and Krsna to be an imposter. There is a quarrel and confusion until Radha ends the game, and Krsna grants a performance of the ras dance.

21. Govardhan Lila
Krsna induces the people of Braj to change from the worship of Indra to the worship of Mount Govardhan. Indra retaliates by pouring down floods of rain. Krsna lifts the mountain and shelters the Braj people beneath it. Defeated and humbled, Indra makes an apology.

22. Gaunevari Lila
Krsna receives hospitality in Radha's home in the guise of a bride traveling to her husband's house. Discussing Krsna in the course of conversation, the newcomer makes unfavorable remarks about His character. When Radha hotly defends and praises Krsna, Krsna Himself, beneath the disguise, is so deeply moved that He falls unconscious, and is found out.

23. Canda Lila
Baby Krsna demands the moon to play with, saying He will not eat or drink until it is given. Yasoda fills His plate with water, and on its surface shows Him the gleaming moon.

24. Candravali Lila
When Candravali Sakhi comes by while taking curds to market, Krsna demands a tax in merchandise. She sends Him to make a leaf-cup for His curds, but she runs away while He is gone. In revenge He makes a fool of her by coming to Her house in the disguise of a long-separated cousin.

25. Chak Lila
The cowherd boys eat up their lunches but are still hungry. Krsna sends them to beg from some brahmans who are conducting a sacrifice. The priests brush the boys aside, but their kindlier wives send excellent food in golden dishes and receive Krsna's blessing.

26. Citerin Lila
Krsna comes to Radha's house disguised as a woman who paints pictures on cloth (citerin). Given a cloth to decorate, the visitor paints on it a beautiful picture of Radha holding hands with Krsna. Radha divines who the painter might be.

27. Chirharan Lila
The gopis pray to Siva and Parvati for Krsna as a husband and bathe in the Jamuna, leaving their clothes on the bank. Krsna steals their clothes, climbs a tree, and compels them to come out of the water and salute Him with both hands before returning the clothing. He promises to meet the gopis in the ras dance in the autumn season.

28. Causar Lila
Radha and Krsna play chess; the stakes: slavery of the loser to the winner. Krsna loses, and binds Himself over to Radha as her slave.

29. Janma Lila
Krsna is born in King Kans' prison. His father Vasudev is miraculously enabled to take the child from the cell to the house of the herdsman, Nand, where Krsna is exchanged for a newborn girl.

30. Jogin Lila (A)
Krsna sits on the riverbank in the guise of a yogi, and the village people press around Him and bring Him gifts. Radha arrives amid the crowd. The 'yogi' touches her feet with all His sacred articles, and with such fervor that He gives Himself away.

31. Jogin Lila (B)
Krsna comes to Radha's town as a yogi. Radha remarks on His resemblance to her Syamsundar, though He mutters, 'alakh, alakh!' instead of 'Radha, Radha'. The 'yogi' tries the name Radha experimentally. He is overcome by its potency, swoons, and is found out.

32. Jogin Lila (C)
Krsna as a yogi comes to Radha and remarks that although he and Krsna were born at the same time, he himself is an ascetic of perfect knowledge and discipline, whereas Krsna is a thief and a libertine. Radha explodes in anger, and Krsna is so deeply moved that He falls unconscious.

33. Jogini Lila
Krsna comes to Radha disguised as a female ascetic, gives her a lecture on the Absolute, and denounces the worldliness of Krsna. Radha retorts so sharply in Krsna's defense that Krsna, overjoyed, betrays Himself.

34. Dhandhin Lila
In the disguise of a minstrel woman (dhandhin), Krsna signs and wins Radha's acclaim and a reward consisting of some of Radha's own clothing. Radha's companions insist on helping the 'woman' don the clothes, and Krsna is found out.

35. Tamolin Lila
A female vendor of betel so pleases Radha with her wares that Radha orders her companions to put on her one of her own royal saris. Under the vendor's garments Krsna is discovered.

36. Tirth Darsan Lila
Nand and Yasoda say they are going on pilgrimage to Prayag, Kasi, and other great tirths and ask Krsna to do the chores of the homestead while they are gone. Krsna, reluctant, asks them to stay. By His yogic powers He brings the places of pilgrimage to them.

37. Dadhikando Lila
When Nand sees the newborn Krsna in the arms of His wife, he celebrates the birth of a son. Milk and curds are thrown about, and the cowherds carry on clownish antics in the slime. Nats, bhands, and other entertainers show their skills, offer congratulations and receive rewards.

38. Dan Lila
The gopis bring curds to sell in the town of Nandganv. Krsna and His friends set up a 'toll post' and demand tax in kind. AQ wrangle follows, and the gopis complain to Yasoda. Krsna counters all their accusations and gets His curds. (This lila, in one of many variations, is always played on the final day of a month-long series of performances. It is then that the swami takes his 'tax' of those who have been enjoying his lilas.

39. Davanal Samrakshan Lila
When the demon Savanal sets the forest ablaze, terrifying the cows and cowherds, Krsna miraculously drinks up the fire.

40. Durbasa Lila
The gopis, wishing to cross the flooded Jamuna to worship Krsna's guru Durbasa, gain passage by declaring, 'If Krsna is a bachelor, pure in thought, word and deed, then allow us to cross!' The gopis offer Durbasa large gifts of good, which he eats greedily. The gopis ask the sage how they may cross the river again. 'Declare that Durbasa is fasting,' says he. The river gives passage.

41. Dhenukasur Uddhar Lila
Balaram kills Dhenuka, one of Kans' demon-emissaries who, mingling in the herds in the form of a cow, had been destroying the cows and the calves. {Note: In Krsna Book, Dhenukasura is described as being in the form of an ass, who prevents the cowherds from enjoying the palm fruits.]

42. Dhobimaran Lila
Krsna, entering Mathura, meets the royal laundry Man and demands that he deliver over to Him the royal clothes of King Kans. The laundryman refuses to do so. Krsna kills him.

43. Natvin Lila
Krsna disguised as a female acrobat amuses Radha at Sanket by doing the peacock dance on the branches of a banyan tree. The sharp eyes of the gopis penetrate His disguise.

44. Nandotsav Lila
The arrival of the infant Krsna at Nand's house is celebrated. The herdsmen come and give congratulations. Entertainers called dhandh and dhandhin sing and dance, buffoons (bhandh and naqqal) put on humorous imitations and go away with rewards.

45. Nain Lila
Appearing at Radha's house in the disguise of a barber woman, Krsna receives a commission to care for Radha's hair. But the moment the 'barber' touches her hair, he is engulfed in emotion, falls in a faint, and is discovered.

46. Namkaran Lila
Gargji the family priest comes to the house of Nand, calculates horoscopes, and gives names to Krsna and Balaram, exp0laining their meanings.

47. Narad Lila
Narad brings to the newborn Krsna, with his devotion, the gift of a charm made of a lion's claw.

48. Nikunj Hindol Lila (or Jhulan Lila)
Radha and Krsna swing in the grove. They push each other, then sit side by side and swing together. (Lacking plot, this is essentially a sentimental spectacle.)

49. Nauka Lila (or Daunga Lila)
After a day in the market the tired gopis wish to go home across the broad river. Krsna appears as boatman, but tells them their baggage is too heavy for his small boat. He lightens them of all their curds, which He eats, and for throws all their pots and jewelry into the river. Then He takes them all to the other side.

50. Patvin Lila
A woman who makes beaded belts comes to Radha from Nandganv and delights her with accounts of the laudable doings of Krsna. The companions of Radha, less credulous than she, examine the 'patvin' and find Krsna beneath the disguise.


| The Sun | News | Editorials | Features | Sun Blogs | Classifieds | Events | Recipes | PodCasts |

| About | Submit an Article | Contact Us | Advertise | |

Copyright 2005, All rights reserved.